It would be hard to deny Unfriended as an imaginative and innovative film; Director Levan Gabriadze takes an initially uninspiring concept and makes it work with admirable attention to detail and a genuine sense of tension. However, in the film’s pursuit of as much realism as possible, the viewer is left unable to escape from the extremely irritating and unlikable characters which are, unfortunately, necessary evils to make this twisted ‘found-footage’ film work the way it does.
There’s no shortage of annoying characters in horror movies, but they are at least somewhat off-set by setting, camera work, and some sort of variety. Unfriended is unique in that sense; you cannot escape these characters because the screen is literally a millennial’s computer screen. The viewer is pretty much someone who is following a story as it unfolds on a teenage girl’s desktop, through her eyes. It’s claustrophobic in a way that no other film is, not for one second letting up on it’s gimmick and staying frustratingly committed to playing it out until the very end.
For just under 83 minutes, we watch as this girl, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) as she has a group Skype session with her friends, watches Youtube videos, chats on Facebook, and listens to music on Spotify. No one has attempted something like this before simply because, on paper, it’s really, really dull.
From the get-go we are made aware of a video that has been leaked online of a suicide. The victim is Blaire’s ex-friend Laura (Heather Sossaman) who was on the receiving end of online bullying and harassment after someone uploaded a video of her passed out at a party.
When Blaire starts receiving instant messages from Laura’s account, and an anonymous intruder in the group Skype session turns out to be from Laura’s computer, things obviously start to get a little creepy. As viewers, we are sucked into the storyline simply because it feels so real. The process of Blaire switching between these tabs – Facebook, Skype, Spotify, etc. – mirrors the current landscape of day-to-day for the majority of us now that social media has become second nature. The use of millennial ‘internet speak’ is kept annoyingly real, and it really holds a mirror up to ourselves and says “this is how you sound: like an annoying brat”. Unfortunately, watching and listening to these brats progressively freak out as “Laura” begins to get more intense is as frustrating as the constant ‘sent’ and ‘receive’ sound effects that we are all sick of by now.
It doesn’t help that Blaire has a really bad internet connection; our window into all the other characters, Skype, is consistently blurred and choppy, making the really tense scenes fizzle amongst a sea of static and stunted audio.
The message against cyber bullying in Unfriended is explicit and it’s handled really well, never losing sight of the positive effect it could have on those in Primary/High School (physically and/or mentally) who go along and watch it. However, the film is hard to like simply because of what it takes to get to the end. It takes being tolerant of some really superficial characters, some necessarily grating sound effects, and, again, a bad internet connection, to come out really appreciating Gabriadze’s commitment to realism.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Duration: 83 minutes
Unfriended is out in Australian cinemas now.